Total Immersion: Working on Arm Recovery and Stroke

In my last session with Shinji, I worked on my arm recovery. Then, a reader of my blog emailed me for some questions on arm recovery, which prompted me to post on the TI forums, and then prompted this post.
In working on my arm recovery, I have been given many visuals through verbalizations to help with the right motion by Shinji and also some from an Advanced TI Seminar by Dave Cameron. These were:
a. [Shinji] The one trapezoid/shoulder shrug to bring the arm up.
b. [Shinji] Extend the shoulder blade forward
c. [Shinji] Try to exit the hand/arm through the same hole in the water that it’s laying in, at the end of the stroke. Not only does this stop placing forces that are not helping me go forward in the water (ie. making me sink or bounce in the water), I find that dragging your hand out that way means you are naturally doing the elbow led recovery.
d. [Dave Cameron] Imagine during recovery that you are scraping your bicep across the surface of the water as you bring the arm around.
e. [Dave Cameron] Use inner rotation of the shoulder, don’t bring it up and over. The arm tends to trace a path that is more a swing around rather than straight along the path over the body. He has said that inner rotation also saves your shoulder from damage.
Great coaches have a multitude of vocabulary and can come up with many ways to help a student perform some complex action. Then, posting on the TI forums, Terry Laughlin and Dave Cameron both weighed in on these comments. Here are their posts reprinted:
Terry says:
“Dave I would probably have difficulty following those focal points. For instance, I’m not sure how to interpret the phrase “extend the shoulder blade forward.” That’s why I prefer focal points that describe a simple action or a sensation described in ‘universal’ language.
One key to a recovery in which the elbow lifts and leads the hand and forearm forward is how you exit the water. I’ve used the following images to help me with that:
1. Release, rather than push back, at the end of the stroke
2. Release away from the hip – i.e. toward the outside. (This helps combat the tendency to bring the elbow toward the spine on recovery.)
3. Circle the elbow – like the crank of a bicycle. (This helps reinforce #1.)
As for video, Lesson 5 on the Easy Free DVD is devoted to release, recovery and entry. It shows LOTS of video of the rehearsal exercises that improve your kinesthetic awareness of leading with the elbow. Also of the release, recovery and entry, including contrast of all the most common errors and how to correct them.”
Then Coach Dave Cameron posted:
“One thing that must be realized about my coaching is that I always use tricks to get what I want. I wanted it to FEEL like the elbow scraped, but it shouldn’t be as wide as that in reality. Just to get people to break their habits on that one, We started with the release, went to the shrug/shift, the swing, the slice without sacrifice, and the slip.
The recovery can have a lot of variety based on flexibility and balance.
Denser swimmers may need to be wider, especially with breathing in mind. Flexible swimmers will look like Shinji, but be cautious that there isn’t a hitch before entry when swimming (not a drill skill, as KevinM puts it) when you roll through some of the tougher parts of a higher recovery.
If you extend to lock at the end of the pull/anchor phase, it’s very difficult to fix this and have the right recovery. Make sure that when you transition from anchoring, the focus rotates to shoulder and elbow manipulation. If you try to take the hand around, it’s almost impossible to focus on it without putting tension on the marionette arm.”
Absorbing all this as text, and then putting it in my head as a visualization, and also wrapping in my live coaching sessions with Coach Shinji was quite a feat.
Looking to Terry’s comment about the Easy Freestyle DVD Chapter 5, I put that on and found some nice video to complement all the text above.
I think in the end, Terry’s drills on the DVD proved to be the easiest to work with. I went out for a few sessions now attempting to work the exercises and they seemed to work great.
I found out that my left arm was quite different than my right arm, and that it was doing a slightly different, but critically different movement. It definitely showed in how far and fast I would glide between my right and left sides.
Doing the Zen Switch by dragging my arm/forearm/wrist/fingertips through the water while swimming, I found that my strokes were better than when the arm was out of the water. For some reason, when some part of my arm/hand was moving through the water, I had some sort of anchor where I could tell where my arm/hand was and put it in the right place. The moment I lifted it out of the water, my left arm began to lose its form, whereas my right arm was OK.
Other tips that really helped:
1. As Terry mentioned in 2., and also Shinji has said to push water away from you at a 45 degree angle at the end of the pull, this sets up the arm for recovery.
2. I also was stroking not straight back which causes my body to hop up and down as evidence that I was putting force in other directions besides moving me forward. I need to stroke straight back.
3. I need to perfect the arm drop before spearing forward. I seem to have this OK on my right side where I can really feel gravity just dropping my arm into the water and then it spears forward. On my left, it feels awkward and I seem to be using my right arm pulling back as compensation for a weak spear forward. This is really bad when I take a breath and the spear forward is very weak, resulting in me almost stopping when I breathe.
Shinji has told me that the spear forward generates a lot of forward motion and he is right. We have done isolated drills where I am not stroking but merely attempting to move forward via spear alone. It’s pretty amazing how far you can go. So I do not want to lose this momentum generating motion and need to get it right on my left side.
4. Another bad habit to break: sometimes as I bring my left arm through recovery, I tend to arc my body. Very weird and need to stop this.
As always, thanks for the great advice from all my TI coaches and sources of information and lots to work on!